Speak out TODAY for Texas records access
Word just reached the broader genealogical community yesterday that we’re in a fight in the Texas Legislature right now over access to birth and death records, and there’s an urgent need for genealogists who are Texans or who have Texas roots or who just care about records access to speak out to members of the House of Representatives there.
The bill that’s at issue is House Bill 3252. It’s sponsored by Representative John Zerwas (Fort Bend County), and it would dramatically lengthen the time during which Texas birth and death records would be closed. Right now, birth records become public 75 years after the birth, and death records 25 years after the death. Zerwas’ bill would change that to 125 years after the birth and 50 years after the death.
The argument this time is that it would prevent identity theft — despite the fact that there’s not a shred of evidence that anybody has used (or even could use) records of people who’ve been dead 25 years already for that purpose or that birth records more than 75 years old have been or could be used either.
The numbers in the proposal — 125 years and 50 years — are coming from that same not-yet-approved proposed Model Vital Records act that some state vital records registrars put together without any public comment at all that was the driving force behind a bill in Oregon 10 days ago.1 That Oregon move was defeated, proving that genealogists working together can make a difference.
Now’s the time — right now — today — to work together in Texas. The alert from the Texas State Genealogical Society that came out yesterday says House Bill 3252 could be voted on in committee as early as tomorrow. There’s literally no time to waste.
Here’s what you can do:
• First, familiarize yourself with the bill and the arguments against it. The Texas State Genealogical Society through its Records Preservation and Access Committee has material online you can review.
• Second, write a few paragraphs explaining that you oppose the bill and why. Use your own words (legislators ignore anything that looks like a form letter) to explain why access to birth and death records is so important and why closing them because of an unsubstantiated fear that they might be misused by somebody is a bad idea. Key points could include your own experiences with these records, the need we all have to get information for our own medical history and the need forensic genealogists have for access to these records for their work.
• Third, email the sponsor of the bill, Rep. John Zerwas, firstname.lastname@example.org. Send your few paragraphs to him, adding information about yourself: if you’re from his district, say so — you’re a voter! If you’re from Texas, say so. If you have Texas roots, say so.
• Fourth, email the members of the House of Representativs Public Health Committee. Again, send your few paragraphs to each of them, adding information about yourself: if you’re from one of their districts, say so — you’re a voter! If you’re from Texas, say so. If you have Texas roots, say so. The members and the counties they represent are:
Chair Rep. Lois W. Kolkhorst
Vice Chair Rep. Elliott Naishtat
Rep. Garnet F. Coleman
Rep. Nicole Collier
Rep. Philip Cortez
Rep. Sarah Davis
Rep. Bobby Guerra
Rep. Susan King
Jones, Nolan, and Taylor Cos.
Rep. Jodie Laubenberg
Rep. J. D. Sheffield
Erath, Comanche, McCulloch, Mills, Hamilton, Coryell, San Saba and Somervell Cos.
Rep. Bill Zedler
• Finally, email the members of the House of Representativs from any county where you have any ties. If you go to the Texas Legislature Online website (http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/), there’s a box on the right hand side to plug in the name of the town your ancestors came from or where you have connections. That will tell you which member represents that area or those areas. Again, send your few paragraphs to each of them, adding the information about yourself and your Texas roots.
Speak out, genealogists. TODAY. There’s no time to waste.